“…we thought we never saw a more stalwart body of men.”
By August Marchetti
In the wake of the aftermath of Fort Sumter’s surrender, news of its capitulation swept the country like a firestorm. Of the many cities, towns and hamlets north and south of the Mason Dixon Line, places like Wilkes-Barre and nearby Scranton in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania were not immune to the excitement carried forth on the heightened wave of patriotism which stirred incommunicable feelings in every heart.
During the initial outbreak of the Civil War, several companies of soldiers from Luzerne County had already been raised and sent forth in response to President Lincoln’s call for troops to end the rebellion. The total number of volunteers requested from the loyal states was 75,000 men, and while that number seems great, the quota was rapidly filled. In fact, even after the quota had been reached, volunteers still continued to pour into the state capital at Harrisburg, where a camp of instruction had been set up for the purpose of enlisting volunteers.
One of those companies that failed to find its way to Harrisburg in time to be accepted was the Wilkes-Barre Guards. This group of volunteers, which disbanded shortly after it was organized, was recruited by a well known, well-to-do chap by the name of Elisha B. Harvey. An all around well-educated man, Harvey was residing in Wilkes-Barre at the time of the war, and was a man of considerable wealth and vast influence in the northeast region of the Commonwealth. He possessed friendships and acquaintances stretching from every corner of the state, to the far reaches of the New England area, particularly Connecticut, where he was educated at Wesleyan University as a younger man.
At forty-two years old, he was working as a highly-energetic attorney, a field in which he continued to practice while also occasionally teaching and filling various civic posts in the community. Harvey was also an investor in the Wyoming Bank in Wilkes-Barre, and was filling a seat of one of its many directors in early 1861.
Various sources state that after President Lincoln’s call for troops was made, Harvey was among the many who requested from, and was subsequently granted permission by the Governor, Andrew G. Curtin, to recruit a company of men which was understood would be accepted by the government.
With this assurance from state authorities, Harvey began recruiting a volunteer company of men from Wilkes-Barre on April 22nd. His cousin, Charles A. Lane, more commonly known throughout the region as “Judge Lane”, assisted Harvey with the recruitment efforts, among other administrative tasks . By the end of April, eight other companies had also organized in the county, many of whom were already making their way to the capital.
In just over a week, Harvey had his enrollment book chock-full with the names of local volunteers anxiously ready to depart for the seat of war. On May 3, Lane sent a telegraph to Harrisburg informing the Governor that the company, called the Wilkes-Barre Guards, numbering one hundred strong and under the command of Elisha B. Harvey were ready to report to Harrisburg. The reply was not what they had anticipated, and rather than receiving instructions how to proceed, they were informed that the quota was full, and their services were no longer needed. It was recommended that the company be disbanded.
This was no doubt a disappointment to Harvey, and left those who volunteered to serve in his company feeling disgruntled, especially since they were told that a company under Harvey was accepted by the Governor. The men who enrolled in this failed effort soon flocked to other organizations with better chances of getting into the service, while others opted to travel to Harrisburg on their own to join companies already in camp.
Though disheartened by this unfortunate turn, Harvey did not let this bump in the road slow his momentum. A week or so after the Guards were disbanded, State Authorities in Harrisburg announced the passing of a law enacting the Reserve Volunteer Corps of the Commonwealth in which the state would be filling twelve regiments of infantry, and one each of rifle, cavalry and light artillery; fifteen regiments in all, numbering approximately 15,000 officers and men. Harvey immediately went back to work recruiting for another company of men.
As mentioned in a previous passage, Harvey had been filling a director’s seat at the Wyoming Bank in Wilkes-Barre prior to the outbreak of hostilities. A new building for the Wyoming Bank had just been completed the previous month in March of 1861, and the company was still largely in the transitional process moving from one building to the other. It is presumed that Harvey may have been basing his recruitment efforts out of the new building, perhaps operating out of the first floor directors’ parlor. It was a two-story brick structure with stone trimmings that sat on the southwest corner of Franklin and Market Streets. Though no evidence has surfaced to validate this claim connecting Harvey’s company to the Wyoming Bank , it does seem plausible given the circumstances, especially after this new company would adopt the name of the “Wyoming Bank Infantry.” If not this reason, then perhaps the bank provided Harvey with financial assistance for the war efforts, again, another theory – perhaps both are valid assumptions?
By May 22nd, Harvey managed to raise a new company which was dubbed, the “Wyoming Bank Infantry.” Numbering seventy-men strong, Harvey secured it’s acceptance in the state’s new Reserve Corps, and now the waiting game began.
Week after week would pass, while Harvey most likely struggled with keeping his men together long enough to see any movement on the executive office’s front in Harrisburg. Fortunately for Harvey, this time he had a strong connection with those who had volunteered to serve under his command. Many of those connections were kinship connections for instance, his two closest allies that joined him in both the Wilkes-Barre Guards (which was disbanded early on) and now the Wyoming Bank Infantry, was an older cousin, “Judge Lane” and his step-son, Charles W. Garretson.
Charles Asbury Lane, more commonly known in the Wilkes-Barre area as “Judge Lane, “ appears to have been heavily relied upon by Harvey on the administrative side of things; as most communication between the executive department at Harrisburg and Harvey seem to have been done through Lane. Likewise as we move forward in this account, Lane will go on to fill an office in a regiment which is largely administrative, dealing in quartermaster stores.
Charles Whitehead Garretson, his step-son, was only twenty-one years old and employed as a teacher when the war began. He was originally born in Somerville, NJ but his family relocated to Wilkes-Barre when his mother married Harvey.
Another close friend Harvey kept when the Wyoming Bank Infantry was formed was Legrand B. Speece, who, like Judge Lane and Garretson, also volunteered to serve under Harvey in both the Guards and now the Wyoming Bank Infantry. It appears the earliest connection that can be found between Harvey and Speece is in the 1850s when Harvey was serving as Chief of Police in Wilkes-Barre, and Speece as a policeman in the same borough. At age thirty-six, Speece was a democrat politically, and a bricklayer by trade. In late 1857, Speece dabbled in business when he purchased a partnership in a hotel in Wilkes-Barre known as Steele’s Hotel. When the war started, his name adorned a list of the men who signed the roll book to join Harvey’s Wilkes-Barre Guards, but it disbanded. He again joined Harvey when a new company was raised in response to the call for additional troops to form the commonwealths Reserve Corps.
These three gentlemen, Lane, Garretson and Speece appear to have been Harvey’s core strength in assisting him with the raising of the company, and also keeping it together long enough till they received orders.
Those orders didn’t come until the second week of June, when Harvey was told to move his company by rail to West Chester, Pennsylvania south of Philadelphia where they were to report themselves to the commandant at Camp Wayne. At some point before they departed Wilkes-Barre, an election for company officers was held resulting in Elisha B. Harvey, Captain; Legrand Bancroft Speece, First Lieutenant; and Charles W. Garretson, Second Lieutenant. Captain Harvey in his elected post, was entitled to appoint his non-commissioned officers; his senior Sergeant, also known as an Orderly Sergeant, or First Sergeant, was given to an enterprising young man named Levi Gheen McCauley.
Harvey must have had McCauley earmarked for the post of First Sergeant before the company was even officially organized; as he was a bright, young ambitious man who was a mechanical engineer, and at one time educated at the Wyoming Seminary, where Harvey taught.
On the morning of Thursday, June 13, the men of the Wyoming Bank Infantry gathered together and marched to the rail depot where they said farewell to their friends and loved ones who came to see them off. One by one they boarded the cars on the Lackawanna and Bloomsburg railroad, and shortly thereafter the train was moving off with many waving handkerchiefs, and many in tears. For many of Harvey’s men, this would be the last time they would see home until the end of the war.
After several hours, the train arrived in West Chester and Harvey’s men disembarked from the cars. Capt. Harvey ordered his men into marching order, and marched them in the direction of Camp Wayne. On their way, they passed by many citizens of West Chester and businesses along the way. One of these businesses was the West Chester Democrat office, and the editors of said place noted that as “…they passed our door on their way to the camp, we thought we never saw more stalwart body of men.”
Currently a resident of Burke, Virginia - I'm originally from the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have been a student of the Pennsylvania Reserves since 1997 and thoroughly enjoy telling their story. By trade I'm a former IT Professional but presently working as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.